Feria of the First Sunday after Epiphany 2022

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

My Brethren in Christ Jesus, blessings, and peace, as we celebrate together a Feria Mass for the First Sunday after the Epiphany. In today’s Gospel reading, we hear the only account in the New Testament of Our Lord’s life between the time of His birth and the beginning of His ministry. For the modern mind, this is strange and unsatisfying, since any considerations of the life and times of a Great Man nowadays invariably include anecdotes from his childhood: his early education, how he interacted with his parents and his first friends, perhaps an uncanny story that gives us a glimpse of what he would become as an adult for better or for worse. In a modern world still shaped by Freud’s peculiar preoccupation with childhood and sexuality, where people spend so much of their time and treasure in trying to overcome the real or imagined traumas of what we have learned to call “the formative years,” we insist that we cannot really know the adult unless we know the child. It is as if the fruit of a man’s life is insufficient. We must know the seed, how and by whom it was planted; how it weathered the sun and the rain; and how it came finally to be harvested and presented to the larger world. The ancients were not as fixated with the lives of children as we are, and yet in retrospect they too sought anecdotal signs from a man’s youth of what he would become. For them, the anecdotal signs were more likely to be clothed in the garb of hagiography than psychology. Rather than try to reconstruct and to explain the adult’s psychological comportment by considering his childhood years, as we are inclined to do, those ancients instead focused on the hagiographical incidents of a child’s life as evidence that he had been favored by God from the start to be the Great Man he became. Therefore, while the New Testament shares only one account of Christ Jesus from when He was a boy, there were plenty of noncanonical books from the First and Second Centuries that painted the Boy Jesus as a kind of spiritual superhero and precocious miracle worker. A famous story sees Jesus molding birds from clay and then bringing them to life. In another account, He resurrects a friend who is killed when he falls from a roof, and He heals another friend who cuts his foot with an axe. In some of these stories, the Boy Jesus is short tempered and prone to homicidal mischief. In the heretical Infancy Gospel of Thomas, a Gnostic book composed in the Second Century, the Boy Jesus stays apart from the other boys beside a stream. While they are splashing around in the water, He is digging a small pool beside the bank. When one of the boys comes over and splashes his pool of water with a stick, an incensed Jesus uses His spell-casting powers to turn the boy instantly into a dried-up corpse. Later, as Jesus is walking through town doing an errand for His parents, a boy accidentally bumps into Him. Jesus strikes the boy dead with a look. Children in Nazareth are so frightened of the Boy Jesus that they become His sycophants, such that Jesus is more mercurial gang leader than future savior of mankind. Like all hagiographies, the fanciful stories tell us a lot more about the writer and his intended audience than about the Great Man being so described. It is fitting then that a heretical Gnostic account of Our Lord’s early life would be so dark, for the Gnostic sees the world as intrinsically evil and irredeemably savage. Moreover, in every Gnostic cosmology, the creator of the universe is never God, but rather is a fallen, mercurial, hotheaded angel who sees what he has created as a kind of sick joke worthy of contempt. It is no surprise in retrospect that most of these tales of Our Lord’s childhood were categorically renounced by the early Church, for they are so much at odds with the Christ Jesus of the Gospels. Rather than use the hagiographical tales of Our Lord’s childhood to try to explain His adulthood, the Church Fathers judged the veracity of those tales by the Faith and Practice that emerged out from His ministry. The faith preceded the stories, not the other way around, just as the Church preceded the New Testament. As such, the account of the Boy Jesus teaching the elders in the Temple is canonical, for it is in the Gospel of Luke, and it conforms with the Faith and Practice that Christ Jesus handed unto His beloved Apostles. The inerrancy of the Bible means that the truth of any one passage conforms with the truth of every other passage, so the truth we learn from seeing the Boy Jesus in the Temple fits naturally with and compliments every other truth about Christ Jesus which we learn from every other Gospel account of His life, death, and resurrection.

And so what is the truth we learn from seeing the Boy Jesus in the Temple? For the most part, the story forecasts themes that will be described in considerably starker tones in his adulthood. Here, His parents are anxious to find Him, when it is clear that He did not join with the caravan heading home from Jerusalem. Later, His mother will be so anxious for His safety that she and her extended family will try to intervene when He is preaching to the multitude. Finally, all that anxiety will pale in comparison to the inconsolable grief the Blessed Virgin Mary feels when she beholds her Son dead upon the Cross. We see a similar progression when we behold how Christ Jesus is so driven to be about His Father’s business. As a child, He is driven enough to stay back, when His parents join with the caravan headed for home. As an adult, He is driven to the point of being crucified for our sins upon the Cross, even though He had the clear opportunity to tell Pontius Pilate what he wanted to hear for Pilate to set free the King of the Jews. Though we are seeing hints here that will progress later in the Gospels, we should not lose sight of the fact that the fullness of Christ Jesus is as much on display here as when He is dead on the Cross or found alive in the tomb. The truth we learn from this passage is that the fullness of who Christ Jesus is will be realized in every encounter with Him. He is not a little less “Christ” here and a little more “Christ” there. At all times, and in every facet of His life, He is going about His Father’s business.

Perhaps, this is why Luke only includes this one account of Our Lord’s childhood. The heretical Gnostic tales can be easily enough discarded as incompatible with the Faith and Practice of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church; but, surely, Luke could have learned more about Our Lord’s childhood in the time he spent interviewing the Blessed Virgin Mary. I suspect that Luke does not include these other biographical details, because what really matters is what Our Lord did in lifting us up on the Cross to His Father. What really matters to us all is that He is about His Father’s business and is providing us the means to be about Our Father’s business. Luke tells us about the Boy Jesus in the Temple because that story encapsulates the fullness of who He is for us and what He is inviting us to do. For like the Boy Jesus, we too are called to leave behind our preoccupations in this world so as to be about Our Father’s business, which is to say we too are called to live a life that is vocational in character and in all ways directed toward God. For as St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Romans, we of the faith are called to be “not conformed to this world, but transformed…by the renewing of [our minds], that we may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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